Raúl Echeberría (1)
Much has been said during these past years about this concept that came into public discussions in the agreements of the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in 2005. In this article, I will attempt to present my interpretation of said concept from my own personal experience of having actively participated in the final negotiations where this new concept was included and from the perspective of my role at LACNIC. (2)
In order to analyze the meaning of this term we need to understand that when government representatives met in Tunis two days before the summit, in an attempt to finalize negotiations in a race against time, this was not an isolated meeting where negotiations began. It was, in fact, the culmination of a long process of discussions, work, and negotiations that had formally begun in early 2003. We can therefore say that the issues or proposals on which no agreement could be reached, and which were consequently not explicitly included in the final documents, were proposals on which no consensus was achieved even after a long period of debate.
Within the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and during the three preparatory meetings, three very clear points of view were consolidated: one point of view that favored the status quo and saw no need for change, one that proposed the creation of new governance structures with strong government and/or intergovernmental organization participation, and a third that proposed improving governance systems through the evolution of existing structures and organizations.
At the time of arriving in Tunis for the final negotiations it appeared that no significant agreements would be possible. There was, however, good consensus on two important notions: Internet governance could be improved, and there was agreement on a set of principles on which Internet governance should be based, which included the reaffirmation of the multistakeholder model.
Nevertheless, there still remained two opposing views on how to achieve those objectives. The notions of EVOLUTION (evolution of existing structures) and CREATION (creation of new structures) appeared to be irreconcilable.
To be able to reach a final agreement, the willingness of the main defenders of the conflicting points of view was needed and creativity was resorted to in order to prepare a text that would achieve consensus. Political willingness was found, and creativity came hand-in-hand with the introduction of the notion of ENHANCED COOPERATION, which presented both sufficient strength as well as sufficient ambiguity to be accepted by all.
The effort to reconcile the two visions can be clearly appreciated in the wording of paragraph 71 of the Tunis agreement.
71. The process towards enhanced cooperation, to be started by the UN Secretary-General, involving all relevant organizations by the end of the first quarter of 2006, will involve all stakeholders in their respective roles, will proceed as quickly as possible consistent with legal process, and will be responsive to innovation. Relevant organizations should commence a process towards enhanced cooperation involving all stakeholders, proceeding as quickly as possible and responsive to innovation. The same relevant organizations shall be requested to provide annual performance reports.
The same paragraph shows how the process towards Enhanced Cooperation is not a single process, but the sum of actions originating from different sources.
This paragraph at least includes the UN Secretary-General and the existing relevant organizations.
There was no support for maintaining the status quo, but neither was there consensus on the creation of new structures. Let’s bear in mind that consensus is required to create something new, not to not create something, which is the default situation when no agreement can be reached.
Therefore, the creativity behind the emergence of the concept of Enhanced Cooperation creates a major challenge: developing new Cooperation/Collaboration models that will allow increasing and improving participation of all relevant stakeholders, in their corresponding roles, without creating new structures, except of course for the creation of the IGF which was explicitly agreed.
The experience I can see from LACNIC is that great progress has been made in this process and in facing up to this challenge. LACNIC’s relationships with other stakeholders have changed dramatically between 2003 and today.
In 2003 there was a very low, almost non-existent level of relationship with the region’s governments, no projects or activities jointly organized with other stakeholders, little contact with intergovernmental organizations, and few cooperation agreements.
If we wish to describe the situation in 2008, we should begin by highlighting the experience of actively participating in the entire WSIS process and the subsequent involvement in the creation and all activities having to do with the IGF. Together, these two experiences have configured an unprecedented level of coordination, collaboration, and exchange with other stakeholders.
The governments of Latin America and the Caribbean have established a mechanism for defining regional plans of action for the development of the Information Society. The first version of this process was eLAC-2007, in which the goals for 2007 were defined. Later, the eLAC-2010 process was conducted to define the goals for 2010. LACNIC actively participated in both processes, cooperating with some working groups, leading others, proposing texts for governments to include in approved documents, and developing joint activities with other stakeholders aimed at contributing to the achievement of the established goals.
At the meeting held in February, 2008, there major changes were promoted by some governments that allowed LACNIC, among others, to participate practically on equal footing with the governments of the region. Five years ago, this would have been unthinkable.
Changes have come from different directions. LACNIC has adopted a proactive approach towards improving its relationships with other stakeholders, and others have taken similar steps.
LACNIC is a member of CITEL, the Intern-American Telecommunications Commission, where together with the member states it makes important contributions. Likewise, under a framework cooperation agreement between the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), ARIN, and LACNIC, many joint activities have been carried out within the context of the Caribbean.
Numerous activities and projects are executed in partnership with government agencies of the region. Highlights include the installation of root servers, supporting new IXPs, training on the creation of IXPs, and training on IPv6.
Likewise, more and more government representatives are participating in meetings organized by LACNIC.
The relationship with civil society organizations has been very naturally. LACNIC participates in the major civil society organization groups of the region and carries out activities in cooperation with several of these groups. Sponsorships have been made available to promote the participation of relevant civil society stakeholders at LACNIC meetings. In August, 2008, together with APC (www.apc.org) and RITS (www.rits.org.br), LACNIC summoned and organized a series of activities that constituted a preparatory process for the IGF at regional level. Those activities included a face-to-face meeting and several on-line discussions on the same topics that would be discussed at the IGF.
Numerous representatives of the most varied regional stakeholders participated in these IGF preparatory activities, in what constitutes one of the best possible examples of multistakeholder collaboration.
Current relationships with governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector of the region are good, there is permanent interaction based on open dialogue and respect for the different roles, and this has allowed LACNIC to have an active role in articulating collaborative efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Is this experience limited to LACNIC and Latin America?
Although this article is based on a perspective that is the result of LACNIC’s experience, the evolution of cooperation among different stakeholders can clearly be appreciated at a much broader level.
Other Regional Internet Registries and other organizations have developed activities and strategies similar to the ones developed by LACNIC and their results have been equally positive.
Conclusions are clear. Enhanced Cooperation already exists. Cooperation between different stakeholders is extremely different to that which existed in 2003. This is a living process that has already afforded notable results. The international debate has itself been very productive and beneficial in making many organizations such as ours work towards increasing the participation of all relevant stakeholders.
So, have we already reached our goal? Is there nothing else left to do?
The answer to these questions is no. As we have already said, this is a living process as are policy development processes and the structures and arrangements that currently play a relevant role in Internet governance. Therefore, their evolution is constant as is the Enhanced Cooperation process. Progress will continue to be observed during the following years.
The recent ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) has exposed how, within certain environments, mechanisms have not yet been implemented to allow all stakeholders to participate in the debates. Although in some cases it has been possible to participate at local or regional level, where processes have been more open, it has not been possible to participate formally in discussions even that in many cases these discussions were related to the specific activities of other stakeholders.
The resolutions adopted at that Assembly are also evidence that there is still much work to be done in terms of creating multistakeholder processes, as some appear to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.
On the other hand, Internet organizations have made significant advances, as have civil society organizations and also governments. New and highly positive realities can be found at local and regional level, but more progress is needed. However, some intergovernmental organizations such as the case cited above have yet to make significant progress.
The processes that are underway, such as the IGF itself, constitute an important tool that will contribute to permanently improve cooperation among different stakeholders. All organizations involved in Internet governance must continue to work and strive for further progress in this direction.
(1) Raúl Echeberria: CEO of LACNIC, member of the IGF Advisory Group and member of the Internet Society’s Board of Trustees.
(2) This article represents the personal view of the author and does not compromise the positions of the organizations for which the author works or of the organizations to which the author belongs.